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Thanksgiving Baby

November 27, 2013

photoYesterday was my father’s birthday.  At least I thought so when I looked at the calendar.  Nov. 26.  Dad’s birthday.  Of course. But then I began second-guessing myself, the way you second-guess the spelling of a familiar word you know how to spell.  My mind raced, losing confidence.  I sent a message to my sister.  I checked Facebook to see if she or my brother had acknowledged it.  Nothing.  Then, I did what I often advise my students to do.  I typed “David L. Spinner obituary” into the Google search bar.  Just one hit: a faculty profile for a David L. Spinner, Ph.D., chair of the Criminal Justice department at the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore.  Not my father.  Not even close.  More importantly for Prof. David Spinner, still alive.

Finally, on a whim, I decided to search the Find A Grave website.  My dad is buried in Graceland.  Every time I drive into the sprawling cemetery on Decatur’s north-side, I smile, thinking of Elvis.  I know my dad would appreciate the joke.

In 2012, over a decade after my dad died, somebody named the Rev. Dale Sims posted my dad’s obituary from the [Decatur] Herald & Review on Find a Grave; another user, kpet, uploaded a photo of his flat marker.  I don’t know either of these people, but between the two of them, they have added over 100,000 memorials to the website.  At the top of the entry, my father’s birth date was listed as Nov. 6, 1942; the obituary, however, listed the correct date, Nov. 26.  He would have been 71 years old this year.  I breathed a sigh of relief.  Nov. 26.  I was right.  But Find a Grave was wrong, so I e-mailed the site to let someone know to change the entry’s header to the correct date.  In my e-mail, I wrote, “I verify this information because I am his daughter.”  Within twelve hours, it was fixed.

My dad was a Thanksgiving baby.  Too much turkey and my grandmother popped.  He came out yelping for food and spent the rest of his life relishing a good meal.  We always laughed about that.

The last time I visited Graceland, it struck me how familiar, almost comfortable, I am there, even amid any sadness.  I have been visiting Graceland since I was a kid, attending graveside services; putting flowers on graves of loved ones; dusting dried grass clippings from their stones.  I passed it every day for over a year when I commuted from my parents’ home to college.

IMG_3176This summer, after adorning my dad’s grave with the plastic purple flowers one of my sons had chosen, I headed around a circular drive to tend to the rest of the family on the other side of the cemetery.  Not far from my father’s grave, a glossy gray stone nestled in a row of overgrown yews caught my eye.  BOHN.  The name of my birth mother’s family.  The name she bore when she brought my sister and me into the world.  The name on our original birth certificate.  I’d likely passed this grave numerous times throughout my childhood.  My brother probably mowed around it when he worked briefly as a groundskeeper there.  Perhaps I’d even said the name aloud.  When I was younger, I used to whisper the names on the stones, momentarily uttering them back into the universe by my acknowledgment.  David L. Spinner.  Nov. 26, 1942.


I stood before that name, thinking about how my twin and I, our mother, our father and grandparents when they were alive, how we all have trouped past that secret name when it meant nothing to any of us, when it was nothing to remember and nothing to forget.

But there it is now, a stone’s throw from my father, the Thanksgiving Baby.

Only in Graceland.

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 28, 2013 7:39 am

    Unbelievable. We are all connected in an incomprehensible way that makes me know what an astonishing God we have. Happy Thanksgiving, Jenny. I was thinking about you today and wondering how your writing was coming. You’ve been given so many gifts in the search for your life’s story. God bless you and all your little guys, Peter, too!,

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